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Khan serious proliferation risk: US
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President Barack Obama wants assurances from Pakistan that rogue nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan is not involved in the nuclear proliferation activity that prompted his house arrest in 2004. The Islamabad High Court on Friday declared Dr Khan a free man.

US officials said they did not have confirmation of the court's ruling from the government of Pakistan but reacted sharply in response to reports of Khan’s freedom.

The state department’s acting deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid expressed concern at the news. “If he is released, we think it would be extremely regrettable. This man remains a serious proliferation risk,” he said. Duguid said he was aware only of a statement by Khan’s defense lawyer announcing the court decision.

But responding to reports on Dr Khan’s freedom, Duguid said the proliferation support that Khan and his associates provided to Iran and North Korea has had “a harmful impact on the international — on international security, and will for years to come.” He said Pakistan was well aware of the US position on Khan.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, “Obviously President Barack Obama has made clear many times the great concern that he has about nuclear proliferation, and as we hear from the government about these reports, obviously the president and this government want assurances that Khan is not involved or engaged in any of the activity that resulted in his house arrest earlier.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodhman Clinton said she was “very much concerned” by the news. The diplomatic wrinkle comes on the eve of a visit to Pakistan by Obama’s special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke will visit Afghanistan, Pakistan and India next week.

A senior US lawmaker, meanwhile, said Dr Khan’s release could have a negative impact of US assistance to Pakistan.

“It is unclear whether the illicit smuggling network he created was fully dismantled even after he was placed under nominal ‘house’ arrest,” said Berman, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’m deeply concerned that, by releasing him, the Pakistani government may in effect be giving him license to resume, perhaps directly, his past actions to aid, abet and profit from the spread of nuclear weapons.”



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